I will advocate for excellence and equity in our schools. I will focus spending on our students and school sites. I will advocate for improved access to mental health services for students. I will work hard to expand access to STEAM ensuring all students, no matter where they attend school, have access to the benefits of STEAM curriculum.
Taking into consideration the profound impact of COVID-19 and the expanded movement for racial justice and equity, what do you think are the top three issues affecting our children and families and how do you propose to address them?
1. Mental and emotional wellness: Wellness is a buzzword that we like to talk about but it's more than just adding more counselors. It is a mindset that needs to be adopted by all. It's having appropriate and healthy expectations for staff and students. And, it's creating safe schools for students and staff. We must make sure there are enough school counselors, psychologists, and social workers so that needy students aren't forced to wait for help. We must make sure there are multi-lingual mental health staff to help reach our underserved populations. We must do a better job of identifying students who are struggling and prioritize their need for assessment. This means we need to make sure our budgets are structured such that funding is available to make this a priority.
2. Racial Equity: Sometimes, because we live in a diverse area, we assume our world has equity but it does not. We still have students who are racially profiled in our schools. We need to educate our students and staff on racial issues. We need to look at the language we tolerate in our schools. We need to hear the voices of our minority students. We need to increase racial justice and equity professional development for teachers and staff so they can understand systemic racism. We should integrate an ethnic studies component in all subjects at all grades so all adults and all students are getting better together.
3. Closing the digital divide and achievement gap: Addressing this issue includes not only providing students with laptops and internet access but also with ensuring parents and guardians have the digital literacy to adequately support their students in distance learning and when doing homework when schools return to the classroom. This not only helps ensure all students thrive but also ensures parents and guardians stay connected to their schools and district which is vital to any child's success in school.
How will the priorities you addressed in the first question be reflected in the way that you approach the budget process?
In any budget process, but especially now when we are hearing we may be headed for a future recession, I will always protect budgetary items that affect our classrooms, that provide direct services to our students, and that provide tools and supports to our teachers. We must make sure that our students continue to receive the best education possible. As a reflection of my priorities above I would specifically protect anything related to student health and safety; parental education and supports, including offering these services in multiple languages; web-based/distance learning supports and training; staffing and materials as related to the creation of and continued implementation of an ethnic studies curriculum in our schools; and the professional development of teachers and staff as related to racial justice and equity.
What steps will you take to address the high cost and lack of availability of quality child care and preschool programs in our communities, especially for low-income children and English language learners?
As a preschool teacher I know first hand the important role early childhood education plays in the social, emotional, and mental development of our youngest learners. There needs to be a shift in our thinking with regard to early childhood education. From birth to age five a child's brain grows more rapidly than at any other time in life. The social, emotional, and mental benefits of preschool programs should be equally as important as the economic benefits they provide to parents as daycare centers. Preschool teaches children how to "do school," ignites a love for learning, and places them on a path for future success. Making programs like preschool accessible to children of all socio-economic backgrounds is vital and should be included as an integral part of our current K-12 model. My hope is that by integrating preschool programs into our public school system all children, no matter their situation, will have the opportunity to benefit from affordable, accessible preschool.
What steps will you take to improve inclusion and outcomes for children with special needs or with disabilities?
I am hopeful that as a district we will be able to address the issues and parental concerns that have plagued our special education department for several years, including the issue of inconsistent leadership. Over the years, parents and staff have expressed concerns about meeting the needs of students and creating collaborative Individual Education Plans. We need to proactively listen to our families of special needs students and understand what supports and programs they need for success that they are not currently receiving and then figure out how we can effectively and efficiently meet those needs. Parents and staff should not have to attend board meetings to have their concerns heard or taken seriously. The truth is many families simply can't take the time out of their evenings to attend board meetings thus silencing their voices and leaving them frustrated and unassisted. This is unacceptable. Finally, we need to do a better job of promoting the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) so families are aware of this important resource. The CAC advises the district and recommends priorities and issues that need to be addressed. It also educates parents, teachers, and staff by offering informative meetings and speakers thus encouraging community involvement in the extremely important service of educating our students with special educational needs.
Much of the student achievement gap has been linked to the "opportunity gap" that low-income children and children of color experience, including lack of access to healthy food, preschool, tutors and enrichment activities. If elected, what steps will you take to address this issue?
As I mentioned above, I would like to see preschool integrated into our K-12 model so that all students have access to the benefits it provides. I would like to explore providing more and improved after-school enrichment programs to students through our partnerships with the YMCA and other outside institutions that provide our extended-day services. Offering and promoting engaging and enriching after-school and summer time learning to low-income children would sustain the momentum started during the school year and avoid the summer lag that so often happens to students who lack meaningful engagement. Additionally, identifying ways the district can partner with the state and cities to provide assistance with unaddressed health care issues, such as eye exams, dental services, and year-round nutrition services would also help overcome the obstacles that are unavoidably put in the way of low-income students' ability to come to school and be ready to learn. With regard to children of color, as I said previously, we need to expand our curriculum to include instruction that is culturally relevant for all students. We need diversify our hiring practices to reflect our school populations and develop a training program that allows teachers and staff to understand diversity and the unique challenges faced by our students of color. We need recruit and train bilingual and multilingual teachers and staff and encourage outreach programs where we proactively reach out to families and keep them informed of the services and opportunities available to them and their students. We need to reassess our discipline policies and move away from punitive disciplinary practices that unfairly and disproportionately impact students of color and move toward restorative justice instead. In these ways we can begin to make meaningful progress toward narrowing the opportunity gap and hopefully closing it altogether.